Saturday, June 27, 2009

Applying GMC to Life

Today we had our second writers’ meeting of the month, the one we call our “Think Tank.” The idea of it is to provide a practical venue for whatever we need—perhaps green lighting together, seeking input or critique from each other, or in some way applying what we’ve been learning. Following our meeting on Goals, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC) from our meeting two weeks ago, some of us have been working to apply it to our stories, as I wrote about doing last week.

To accomplish that, sometimes I’ve had to go to the very core—What does the Point of View character want in this scene? (goal) Why does she want it? (motivation) What is keeping her from getting it? (conflict). Those are the building blocks of any story that keeps the reader turning pages.

Today at Think Tank we had a chance to apply the concept to ourselves personally. First we went around the circle and expressed one of our goals for this year, whether for our writing or some other aspect of life. One, for example, is working to lose weight, one wants to connect with an agent, while I want to get beyond this revision and rewriting.

Then one at a time we had to verbalize our motivation, our why? Those were interesting, but most interesting was when we had to verbalize our conflicts—what is keeping us from our goal? An interesting collection turned up, with a fair amount of overlap. Most of us have work responsibilities, one has young children. We deal with interruptions of every kind, every day. Most of us simply have more things that we need or want to do than we have hours in our days, and everyone can identify with that. I know my ancestors worked harder physically than I ever will, but I’m also sure none of them were pulled in so many directions almost constantly.

We learned a good bit about ourselves today, some more than others. I invite you to take a few minutes to do the same, either alone or with a spouse or someone else close to you. Choose a goal, something you really want. Verbalize why you want it, and then take a good look at the conflicts which fight against your obtaining it. You may pick up some practical perspectives on changes you might be able to make to help you better reach your goal.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Styles vs. Rules

A couple of days ago I wrote a message to a fellow writer who is feeling a bit overwhelmed with all he is learning about writing Christian fiction in today’s world. I have his permission to post here what I wrote him.

A lot of what you are going through is familiar territory to me. I came to our writing group 2 1/2 yrs ago with a WIP [work in progress] I'd written years ago, and I hate to admit that I've been working every since to "bring it into today's writing styles." Among the many things I've learned and tried to put into practice are the likes of point of view (POV), sprinkling back story instead of dumping it, showing instead of telling, weeding out to be verbs and -ly words.

To keep my sanity in all this, I've come to distinguish between "rules" and "style." Subject-verb agreement is a rule, so is using the right tense of a verb. How often you say "he said-she said" or whether you say "arid" instead of "very dry" is a matter of style. Even the now-notorious "head-hopping" is a matter of current style; it didn't used to be an issue, even twenty years ago.

The point is that if we want to sell in today's market, we have to learn to write mostly in today's style -- i.e., what editors are publishing these days. One of the reasons for that is that our world has changed, people have changed, our culture has changed. Today's TV-saturated brains are used to quick changes and seeing everything--not to having it described as in Kaye's favorite example of the audience Dickens wrote for.

All this is immensely complicated by the fact that we are supposed to do that without abandoning, or losing, our own “voice,” which is pretty close to the same as our own style. Impossible? An oxymoron? Sometimes it feels that way, but it must not be since so many seem to be succeeding these days.

Sixteen months ago I started a blog in which I've talked about some of my struggles and challenges. It occurred to me that you might find some of them helpful. I did a quite stab in the dark and found one that says some of what I've tried to say here but which might also serve as a starting point to browse some of the others. The blog is at, and that particular one at For whatever it's worth....

Above all, hang in there! We're glad you're a part of our group, and if we can help you as others have helped us--well, that's pretty much what a writing group is about, no?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I’ve Been Doing It!

(Note: You won’t understand this blog if you haven’t read the one before it.)

I made a lovely discovery today.

After spending considerable time working on “goal-motivation-conflict” issues with my main characters, I went back to the “scenes-analysis” table that I’ve been keeping for two or three years. I had modified it periodically, and last week I had already modified it by setting it up with columns for GMC. Then I set about, one scene at a time, from the perspective of the point-of-view character, to try and verbalize the GMC for that character in that scene.

Perhaps it’s still all Greek to you, but it has begun to make sense to me. After four or five scenes, it dawned on me—it looks as if I’ve been writing this way already! I didn’t have to struggle to identify a goal, motivation and conflict going on in each scene.

That means I’ve been doing something right! To say that was a good feeling is an understatement. At this point, I have done the analysis for two of the three pages of scenes that are already on the chart. I may go ahead and do the third sheet (it has some cool scenes on it), or I may get back to the revision process and just report on each scene’s GMC as I finish with the scene.

I’m still far from an expert on this, and I sometimes still confuse the goal with the motivation. In the online class I am taking on the topic, distinction is made between external GMC and internal GMC, but in the work I did today I didn’t make that distinction. Maybe next week I need to ask the facilitator about that.

Through this GMC business, I am really getting into my main character and understanding better what makes her tick. This is good because I didn’t know all that as I wrote her story initially. (I didn’t even recognize and acknowledge her as my mail character until I took a class from Angela Hunt at the first writing conference I attended.) So good things are happening.

One of those good things is that the more I get into this, the more I see the rich possibilities in stories beyond this first one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back Story -- My Journey Continued

When I first sat down to write what has turned out to be my lifelong wip*, I wrote the opening scene, and then I charged ahead and wrote pages and pages of back story. Years later, I learned that, though back story is necessary—you dump it all at the beginning like that! Before I learned that, I worried a lot about that back story – i.e., would it keep people reading until they got to the “real” story, but I still assumed all the back story was necessary straight out the gate. How else could the reader understand what was happening in the “present” of the story? For a while I tried breaking up the back story, but the story still wallowed in reflections and emotions but no action. It has taken me years to adjust my thinking to using back story only as a teaser to create suspense that keeps the reader turning pages.

Last fall I decided I needed to jettison the first six months of my story and begin it, not when Sharon ran off with Tony, but when she came back widowed and pregnant. Those who encouraged me to do that said, “Oh don’t worry about what you cut—you can just weave it in as back story!” Oh, great. More back story was something I did not need.

But I went ahead and tackled the challenge. I made only brief references to what had happened six months before, and like a good girl, I left out more chunks of the original back story. Then I submitted it to the Genesis writer’ contest. In the feedback I got, one theme was repeated about things the judges didn’t understand—why does Agnes feel so compassionate towards Sharon? Why does Sharon feel this way when she’s been gone only six months? Why does she feel thus and thus about Larry? Why? Why? Why?

You know why? If they only had some of the critical elements of back story that I had to cut, they would have understood all those things. I was ready to throw up my hands. Then came the June online course of the month on Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. You know what I learned? Despite the many ways I’ve heard back story maligned since becoming involved with writers’ groups, it is not only necessary, but it has an important purpose. Isn’t that exactly what I’ve always thought?

It is, in fact, an integral part of “goals, motivation, and conflict.” The motivation for all the goals and sometimes the conflict comes from the back story! So I wasn’t that far off. But I’m also learning that using it is extremely tricky because, according to the writing styles of this day, you have to find ways to weave that back story in so subtly that the reader almost doesn’t notice it as back story. It needs to be done seamlessly enough that the reader doesn’t feel jerked out of the forward motion of the story for a trip backwards.

But I thought I had done a lot of that! I know I tried to do that. It’s clear I’m going to have to try some more. How? Besides trying to stand “outside” the story and figure out the GMC on every character and scene, I’m going to have to do an analyze of just the back story—laying out what I have in there now, figuring out what more is still needed, and finding more ways to weave it in “seamlessly.”

Can I do this? I have to have faith I can. And I have to have faith that my story is worth it. My one comfort in this discovery is that my characters have lots of powerful back story.
*Work In Progress

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Seasons of Drought

Seasons of drought happen in our lives in many ways. They happen with the weather, they can happen in our spiritual lives, they can happen in our progress and creativity. How should we respond? Would it help to panic? Can we avoid despair? Should we rustle around trying to stir up rain?

We could do any of those, but most of the time strategies like that don’t do much but drain our energies. They do this not only physically but mentally and emotionally. We can end up rustling around, stirring up mental or emotional dust, and still not find any true relief.

Sometimes a good strategy is to let it rest for a while. Don’t try to force anything (with the weather, you definitely can’t). Don’t get so worked up that you can’t think objectively or creatively. Sometimes with a dilemma, a disappointment, a misstep we’ve made, we need to simply let it rest and unwind, let it germinate and simmer, let your mind or your heart explore or come to peace.

In any of these things, it is always good to pray and wait on God. The Scriptures are clear that God wants us to wait on Him, to be patience, to trust Him to work out His plan. He has that plan for us all the way to the end of our days, whether they be few or many, and He knows how the present is going to evolve into the future.
Sometimes we just need to wait out a draught.